I was born in 1961, so is it any wonder that I am so obsessed with “The Modern”? In the last few months, I have been making a Journey back in time as I find myself in the desert of Palm Springs California and all the mid-century modern architecture that the area still has to offer.
I have been so very pleased with all the beautiful mountain views and the concept of living in spaces that are so open and connected with nature by bringing the outside into the interior of the home’s architecture. I really love the free spirited and mind freeing ideas and designs that were realized in the late 1950’s and 60’s as well as some of the early 1970’s. It’s a time when great effort was made to create a new way of living in a minimalist modern dream of life in the future, or how we thought the future should be.
Palmer & Krisel’s “House of Tomorrow”, conceived, as an experiment in modern living, Palm Springs, California.
Between 1959 and 1962 William Krisel, architect, began using his amazing vision of modernist views pared with realistic designs on the now famous mid-century desert homes (known as the Alexanders). that wowed the public into the future or what they thought the wonderful modern future would be.
As a young architect, William Krisel saw a great opportunity when he was friends with a builder family and was able to convince the son,(Robert Aleaxander) of the Builder/Developer Founder of Alexander Construction Company, George Alexander, to go to his father and say we ought to try some of these innovative designs. Mr. Alexander thought that the young men were nuts and thought that he would teach them a lesson and give his son Ten lots and then said,”do your thing”. It was a big success and that opened the eyes of his father.
Known as “The Alexanders” uncomplicated designs of strong form and angles articulated a bold new residential look.
William Krisel of palmer and Krisel Architects with the help of the builder/developer Robert Alexander completed the first homes in 1959, coinciding with space-age optimism, the apex of tail fins, and the height of popularity of the nearby Palm Springs racquet Club. The beauty in these new desert houses is the post and beam construction allowing soaring rooflines, an open floor plan, and an indoor/outdoor relationship to the generous acre lots dotted with Olive trees and Fan Palms. With almost 90% of the typical 10,000 SQ. foot lots given to open space, the properties feel enormous. Thin roofs seeming to float overhead, from the street, open carports connect to the house via a breezeway that blurs the delineation between inside and out. These were the first Butterfly roof lines.
Hollywood Stars in the desert
The great trail blazer and dream maker at the time was a hansome silent screen star that was a popular Hollywood leading man, Charles Farrell, with several partners to found the fabled Hollywod Racquet Club which became know as today the Palm Springs Racquet Club. Despite the forbidding great depression of the 1930’s, Charles Farrell opened the Racquet Club in 1934 with actor Ralph Bellamy to be his partner in operations at the time along with Charles wife, Virginia Valli who also was silent film actress in her day. The Hollywood Racquet Club soon became the watering hole to the stars in Palm Springs that took a dusty, hot little town where no one ever ventured, to a place of prosperity with plush development and the winter home of movie stars and famous people of every description, including presidents.
Palm Springs is noted for many of the modern designed homes and with these modernist buildings came a history boasting of a time when Hollywood stars were the main occupants in the town and the primary architects wanted a look and feel to the place that suited the glamour and stardom that resided there.
The most well-known Alexander house in Las Palmas area of Palm Springs is the Lawford/Kennedy house, originally built for actor Peter Lawford, connected by marriage to the Kennedy family and a charter member of the famous “Rat Pack”. During a visit to Palm Springs, President Kennedy was to have stayed at Sinatra’s house, but ended up at Lawford’s instead. The proximity of Lawford’s house to actress Marilyn Monroe’s supposedly gave rise to a rendezvous between JFK and Monroe.
A Legend lives!
With a Palm Springs Lifetime Achievement Award and over 30,000 living units to his credit, William Krisel is one of the most prolific mid-century modern architects alive.
Kisel went to the desert at the request of Alexander to design a tract of modernist houses dubbed Royal Desert Palms and succeded with a dream! These distinguished homes are now referred to as Twin Palms, due to the pair of Palm trees that accompanied each home.
William Krisel delivered some of the most remembered and fantastic modern living spaces of all time, from the Butterfly roof design to the peaked frame with open living space throughout giving the homes modern lines and a open feeling of peacefulness surrounded by desert life and beautiful mountain views that can stand the test of time, forever!
The Alexander Company and architects Palmer and Krisel garnered frequent national attention, sharing innumerable awards for excellence in planning, design, and construction. William Krisel’s lavish spec house for the Alexander, partially intended for publicity purposes, was so treasured by Helene Alexander that she insisted they move into it themselves. Hovering over an inclined cul-de-sac site and balanced on winged walls of local stone, the “House of Tomorrow” was featured along with Bob and Helene Alexander,(and daughter Jill) in a September 1962 Look magazine article, “The way out life” that boasted, “At Palm Springs, dreams of modern luxury come true!”
For all that the Alexanders contributed to Palm Springs, their story ends in tragedy, George and son Robert Alexander and their wives were killed on November 14th, 1965, when the chartered Learjet they were aboard crashed in the Little Chocolate Mountains near Indio, CA, while on flight to Burbank. They were survived by daughter Jill who was 11 at the time and not on the plane. The Company ceased operations with the deaths of its principals.
Realizing what had been lost even then, Palm Springs went into morning and a Era was over.
Modernism Week – Palm Springs, CA.
This annual event has gained notoriety for the exciting mosaic of a multitude of architectural and design programs and events that are taking place in Palm Springs. This collaboration takes place in February between some of the hierarchical seats of power in Palm Springs, such as the Palm Springs Historical Society, Palm Springs Modern Committee, Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, the Modernism Show, and the Palm Springs Art Museum is one sight you simply must see. Feb. 17th – 27th, 2011.